Cause: The cause is unknown, but thought to be linked to an increased amount of sunlight and higher temperatures. People may feel overwhelmed and exposed by the increase in daylight hours.
Effects: Summer depression can cause a low mood, loss of interest and enjoyment in activities, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, agitation, intolerance to heat, decreased appetite and weight loss, increased sex drive and thoughts of suicide. You may feel the need to stay indoors with the curtains closed.
Solutions: Talking about your feelings, counselling and anti-depressants may help. Include plenty of fresh fruit and salads in your diet, take cool showers, and use fans or air-conditioning to prevent overheating. If you feel the need to stay indoors, take up new indoor interests such as reading, crafts, music and creative projects.
Prevalence of Summer Depression
Summer SAD is thought to affect less than 1% of the US population. These sufferers appear to live in hotter regions and, as is the case with other depressive disorders, they are more likely to be female. It is hard to determine the true number of sufferers and significance of gender variation, as people may feel uncomfortable coming forward. Some may manage their symptoms themselves, without seeking advice.
Treatment for Summer Depression
The symptoms of summer depression may have a significantly negative impact on sufferers’ lives, making it difficult for them to function. As with the causes, there is very little evidence on how best to treat to treat summer SAD, though a few possible treatments have been highlighted by researchers.
Sufferers often attribute their symptoms to the summer heat, reporting relief from symptoms by staying indoors and keeping cool. Some find relief in air-conditioned environments and/or taking regular cold showers.
So far, summer SAD has been shown to respond to antidepressant medication, which helps to elevate mood by altering levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. These chemicals are strongly linked to mood and have shown to be effective in treating other types of depression, including winter SAD. Since it may take several weeks for antidepressants to kick in, a doctor may suggest beginning a course of medication in the late winter, before the onset of symptoms.
In non-seasonal depression and winter SAD, sticking to a healthy diet, doing regular exercise and accessing talking treatments have all been shown to be helpful, though it is unclear if these will help summer SAD sufferers.
For some self-help strategies, including information on sleep and diet, read Self-help for Summer Depression. Anyone suffering symptoms of summer SAD should seek advice from a qualified health professional.